About this blog

In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ... The A-Team.

This was the introduction to one of the great TV series of the eighties. The purpose of this blog is to build up the definitive episode guide to the show across its five seasons which ran from 1983 to 1987. So this isn't too much of a burden, I'm intending to watch a couple of episodes a week and given that there were around 100 episodes made during its run, this will turn into a year-long project!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Dishpan Man s5ep1

Co-starring: Sandy McPeak as Josh Curtis, David A. Hess as Ben Al Fraden, Fernando Escondo, Judith Leaford as Carla
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Tony Mordente

The team are informed by a government agent that a man who could clear their name is on a plane that has been hijacked.

The gradual decline in quality that had blighted the fourth season caused a major slump in the show's ratings. Like many action series, The A-Team had a formula which was both its initial strength and its ultimate downfall. An attempt had been made to move away from the ‘small business threatened by large rival’ plotline in season four but in its place we got ill-fitting guest stars and drab scripts.

In an effort to save the show, the complete revamp that was considered unnecessary at the end of season three was now put into action. The result was a completely new slant on The A-Team, one in which the team became covert government operatives under the command of Hunt Stockwell (Robert Vaughan) and joined by special effects expert Frankie Santana (Eddie Velez).

It was certainly a controversial change and remains a hotly debated topic among fans of the show. Many categorically dismiss the fifth season as being something more akin to ‘Mission Impossible’ and a betrayal of the show’s blue collar origins. Personally, I never had a problem with season five as I wasn’t particularly impressed with season four. The scripts were, by and large, superior to the fourth season and the fact that the team were working for Stockwell never bothered me particularly.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Stockwell missions were yet to come. First off we have what is generally referred to as the ‘court-martial’ trilogy, a series of three excellent episodes which introduced the new scenario and characters. This first of the three is the most conventional by A-Team standards but is no weaker for it.

Although season five divides opinion among fans, what doesn’t divide them is the new funkier theme tune. Although messing with themes was often ill-advised (the ‘Quantum Leap’ remix was particularly misjudged), the new version with its driving drum introduction gives the opening of the show a strong, dynamic edge. Another change came in the form of dropping the pre-credits ‘trailer’ (which often gave away much of the plot) in preference of an opening scene that set the story, though not all episodes in the season made use of this.

As for this individual episode, it is Cannell’s best writing contribution to the show since ‘The Taxi Cab Wars’. Along with director Mordente, Cannell delivers a fast-paced and highly entertaining episode with great humour, clever situations and solid action sequences. In many ways, this is the show’s third ‘pilot’ after the season one opener and ‘Battle of Bel Air’ in season two.

The early scenes introduce Frankie’s character and I can’t say I’ve ever been keen on his wise-ass character. His constant remarks could be more than a little grating but he came across better in some episodes than others. After Hannibal is taken to meet Stockwell, the team decide to gamble on the opportunity to be free to be normal people (Face: “No offence Murdock”, Murdock: “none taken”).

The parachuting footage from ‘One More Time’ is recycled here, meaning Frankie is dressed up as Amy was in that episode, even though shots of her descent aren’t used! Murdock gets to use a mini-helicopter that he has been “packing with his underwear” and though it was obviously not flight-worthy in reality, it adds an interesting extra dimension to the episode.

The method for getting on the plane is undeniably clever, more so that in season one’s ‘Beast from the Belly of a Boeing’. Indeed, it’s surprising how many first season reminders there are here with similarities to ‘One More Time’, ‘Beast’ and the aerial vehicle build from ‘Holiday in the Hills’. It’s a credit to how well the whole episode is put together though that it never seems to be re-treading an old formula.

You might argue that Cannell didn’t need to introduce Frankie (he certainly marginalises BA’s technical role) but he is at least wise enough to make the best use of Murdock, who often did not fare too well in the Cannell-penned episodes. Generally speaking, any script that was good for Murdock was good for the show. Indeed, the whole cast are on excellent form here and the final cliffhanger is a real attention grabber. Overall, this very enjoyable episode represents exactly the injection of energy that the show needed at this point. 9/10

The Sound of Thunder s4ep23

Co-starring: Tia Carrere as Tia, Jack Ging as General Fulbright, George Kee Chung as Colonel Sien, Haunani Minn as Mi Lin
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

General Fulbright hires the team to travel to Vietnam to rescue Colonel Morrison, the one man who can clear the A-Team’s name.

At the end of a disappointing season, out-of-the-blue came one of the show's very best episodes. Like the season one finale ‘A Nice Place to Visit’ (also written by show co-creator Lupo), this story is much more serious in tone as the return to Vietnam brings back difficult memories for the team.

The war and its long-term effects had briefly been touched upon over the course of four seasons but never to this extent. At its heart, this is a well-written story, one which takes a number of interesting turns during its tightly-packed 45 minute running time. The episode is exceptionally well-performed by the cast, clearly relishing having a quality script to work from. There is also excellent support from Carrere and particularly Ging, whose General Fulbright character was very much the figure of fun in his previous episodes but here takes on an entirely different and much more effective role.

The silent opening gets the episode off to a somewhat unnerving start. This is far away from the show’s usual ‘comfort television’ approach and there are many little touches which add to the unsettling tone (such as a music score which sounds like rotating helicopter blades). The excellent set design also adds to the effectiveness of the episode, there being a real effort to create a feeling for the story’s Vietnam location.

The plot takes a number of intriguing turns and deals with some interesting issues without ever seeming heavy-handed. There are also lighter moments, such as when BA agrees to fly but ends up blanking out (Murdock: “He didn’t blank out, he was mildly catatonic”). The action is very much within context throughout and as such is highly effective, never more so than in a final set piece which has a scope and a scale that makes it one of the show’s best. Director O’Herlihy delivers a sense of realism that the show previously (and famously) side-stepped, extending to people being shot on camera for one of the few times in the show’s run.

The episode establishes the action credentials of Carrere’s character and the final scene suggests she will be joining the team, though this was not carried forward into the season five revamp. This season finale may well have been the show’s swansong in any case, as noted by Murdock’s “everything comes to an end” T-shirt.

The episode ends on a contemplative note as Hannibal and Murdock again ask questions of themselves and their ability to put the worst aspects of the war behind them. It is a genuinely affecting moment and demonstrates why this genuinely is one of the great A-Team episodes. It is an absolute must-see for fans and stands up alongside the very best of any TV show. 10/10

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Little Town with an Accent s4ep22

Co-starring: Noble Willingham as Zack, Robert Viharo as Sonny Marlini, Mark Lawrence as Sam Marlini, Kathryn Leigh Scott as Sheriff Annie Plummer, Joseph Burke as McMahon, Rex Ryan as Kelvin
Written by Thomas Szollosi, Richard C Matheson
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team help a man who is being pressurised into selling his gas station by the mob.

Almost representing something of a flashback, this penultimate entry in season four is the closest to the traditional A-Team plot than any other episode this season. The ‘rival having ulterior motives for wanting to buy small company’ plot was the staple diet of season three but was completely dropped at the beginning of four to move away from the standard plotline.

There’s a certain tiredness in the writing which means you’re unlikely to remember much that happens during the course of its 45 minutes, even if you’ve seen it before. Gangster episodes had been done before and done better. Murdock inevitably gets to pose as a mobster but these impressions were becoming rather familiar, even if ‘Trouble on Wheels’ was a season ago.

There’s a funny gag involving a villain wrapped in tape if you’re familiar with the James Cagney gangster classic ‘Public Enemy’ but there aren’t enough similarly clever moments to maintain the interest. This is one of the rare episodes to refer to a previous one as it includes the truck Murdock won on ‘Wheel of Fortune’ (and is very protective of).

As much as the A-Team formula contributed to some great episodes, this one demonstrates why the show needed a revamp in season five. The meet-the-client scene, construction montage, car flip are other familiar elements just weren’t enough any more if there was no attempt to try to be original. 5/10

The Trouble with Harry s4ep21

Co-starring: Hulk Hogan as Himself, Paul Gleason as Harry Sullivan, Billy Jacoby as Jeffrey Sullivan, William Perry as Himself, John Hancock as Styles, Carl Strano as Richie
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by David Hemmings

The team help a former boxer whose decision to take a dive many years before has come back to haunt him.

Although the presence of Hulk Hogan as guest star suggests this could be as bad as ‘Body Slam’, that thankfully isn’t the case. The Hulkster has much more of a background role this time rather than the episode being built around him. In fact, there really isn’t any reason for him to be around at all

The story divides the team into two groups with Hannibal, BA and the Hulkster doing most of the fighting against the villains threatening Harry (Gleason from ‘Fire’) and son Jeffrey (Jacoby from ‘The Out-of-Towners). As a grouping, they miss the humour provided by Face & Murdock, though BA does have a great line when he remarks, “we always go through the front door, I’m sick and tired of going through the front door”.

Elsewhere, Murdock and Face spend most of the episode captured and tied up. It works as a running gag and delivers some funny moments but is also rather restrictive given that they never escape for very long. Along the way, there’s a running gag about the two of them being late for the dinner with twins that they were about to attend when they were called upon by Hannibal to assist.

Despite some interesting story elements (including opening the episode with a black and white flashback), the story itself isn’t a grabber. There are a lot of confrontational scenes that never quite come to anything but the final battle is basically solid with Hulkster pitching grenades at the bad guys. Ultimately, it’s ok but also completely forgettable. 5/10

Mission of Peace s4ep20

Co-starring: David White as Rudy, Ann Doran as Nora, Jason Evers as Taggart, Nedra Volz as Babbette, Ric Mancini as Ashton, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Steven L Sears, Burt Pearl
Directed by Craig R Baxley

The team help a group of pensioners who run a historical mission that a gang wants to take over for its own reasons.

A reasonable but over-talky and somewhat silly episode, one based around the idea that the old people can con and fight as well as the team (albeit in their own way).

We get the first meet-the-client scene in a while and overall, there is something rather flat and old hat about the whole thing. There are some interesting plot elements, particularly one of the group of old folks wanting to tag along with Face and join in his scams. There’s more time spent with the clients here than in most episodes but the majority aren’t all that interesting so you do begin to wonder when things are going to pick up a little.

A chase sequence is thrown in at the halfway point, seemingly to ensure that the final fight is not the only action in the entire episode. Murdock’s Daniel Boone impression is enjoyable but rather over-used. It’s another episode that seems like a lower-grade season three leftover and the final confrontation (using a hose among other practical weapons) doesn’t offer anything original.

When you were little, you probably thought history was dull and this episode does little to make you want to visit your local library to learn more about the period. It may be better than season five’s ‘The Grey Team’ but that’s hardly a recommendation is it? 6/10

Beneath the Surface s4ep19

Co-starring: Paxton Whitehead as Morgan, Tom Villard as Barry Green, Kim Ulrich as Elaine, Nancy Everhard as Rebecca Piper, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Danny Lee Cole
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

At his high school reunion, a woman asks Face to track down her missing brother.

While not quite as polished an episode as ‘Duke’, this is still a solid entry in the fourth season. Matters get off to an excellent start as Face attends his orphanage reunion, intending to hook-up with a would-be old flame. Murdock is driving him, acting as chauffeur having “borrowed” his doctor’s limo. General Fulbright has laid a trap of course, so the team have to come to Face’s rescue. They do so to the accompaniment of the Animals’ classic sixties hit ‘We gotta get out of this place’ (with Hannibal disguised as a nun).

The rest of the episode never quite lives up to this start but it remains a good watch. What at first seems to be a missing person story soon turns into a treasure hunt, certainly something different for an A-Team episode. Many sea-faring staples are thrown in along the way, right down to the smart parrot and threat from sharks.

There’s a good running gag about Face thinking he had conned his old friend numerous times in the past but the friend actually came out better. The episode mostly takes place outdoors (which is certainly an asset) but some loose scripting means there seems to be a lot of milling around until the team set out to find the treasure.

The well-shot underwater scenes are certainly something different (accompanied by a suitably mysterious music score) and there’s a great moment when Murdock emerges from the water, relic in hand. The return of Fulbright adds to the action towards the end, though the final battle itself is one of the briefest in any episode.

Overall, it is very much a fun episode that remains light and enjoyable without getting as silly as some episodes did this season. And is it me or is the final scene a bit risqué by A-Team standards? 8/10